I Am Alive Hands-On Preview – Survival Revival
Written Friday, February 17, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
In preparation for playing I Am Alive, we've been dangling off a banister by our fingertips just to get an impression of what it must feel like clinging onto a precipice for dear life. Not that hanging from an edge several inches above the stairs is any kind of comparison to the death defying climbing feats you'll perform during your survival course in Ubisoft's troubled game, which is XBLA bound next month, hopefully helping the House Party promotion to go out with a bang.
Set during the aftermath of a series of devastating earthquakes known only as 'The Event', I Am Alive's nameless protagonist is striving to track down his family among the ruins of Haventon, the town he once called home before it essentially fell into a crater. Now the streets are deserted, inhabited only by roving thugs, paranoid survivors, abandoned vehicles and rubble. It's not a particularly inviting place and even has shades of classic Silent Hill in its atmosphere and aesthetics.
Strikingly grainy and monochrome, I Am Alive is about as saturated as colour palettes get, with what little colour there is washed out by the all-pervading dust that hangs in the air. Standing on a broken steel bridge that's fallen into a raging river, we look ahead and contemplate the journey that awaits us. Climbing in I Am Alive is something akin to Tomb Raider or Uncharted, except it's nigh-on impossible to fall as long as you keep an eye on your stamina bar. Any sort of exertion causes the bar to deplete, while extra effort actually eradicates the stamina bar entirely, so picking a spot to rest and knowing when to knock back some water, soda or a fruit cocktail to replenish your stamina is vital.
During this opening first climb across the twisted, broken girders, each section has been carefully constructed to fully explain the whole climbing system, so by the time you've crossed the bridge, you'll be well-versed in the techniques. They're incredibly simple, with the right trigger held to run or climb a little faster, while A jumps over gaps or up to higher ledges. B drops you down, providing it's safe and if it isn't, you simply won't be able to drop at all. This means that you'll never be subjected to an accidental fall and the only way to die from a fatally high descent is by failing to keep your stamina in check.
Having made our way across the creaky crossing, we find our way into the sewers, where we come across our first hostile survivor, warming himself by a flaming oil drum brandishing a firearm. Figuring this crazy man is best left alone, we press onward through the tunnels and out blinking into the murky daylight. Consulting the map using the Y button, you're able to check the route to your apartment, with constant updates scribbled onto the map in red marker pen, so you can keep tabs on which areas are off limits.
Walking through the deserted neighbourhood, there's everyday detritus strewn across the streets, with shopping trolleys, rocking horses, burnt out cars and rubbish all over the place. With god rays breaking through the swirling dust, it's eerily beautiful to behold. Passing by a gun-toting old lady guarding a doorway where there's a painted banner proclaiming “we don't share”, we go around the block and enter the protagonist's old apartment only to find it abandoned like everything else. On the mantlepiece, there's a picture of his family and a note that offers a glimmer of hope. They're still alive but on the move. Time to track them down.
Leaving and crossing the street, we enter the adjacent playground where we can hear the sound of a sobbing little girl. Startled, the girl screams and runs away, leading us to give chase. She looks like the hero's daughter Mary, and the chase that ensues is reminiscent of the opening of the original Silent Hill (again). Upon catching up to the girl, we discover that it's not Mary but Mei, who's trying to get back to her father who she's in contact with via a radio. Taking it upon himself to protect the girl, our protagonist pushes on for supplies, but not before dealing with a difficult situation with a hostile gang.
In an earlier gang altercation, we acquired a machete, which proves to be an indispensable tool for jimmying open locked gates and diffusing confrontations with surprise kills. There's a trick to doing this properly to avoid an all out fight, and you have time to plan your strategy as you hold up your hands in a placatory pose as the gangs bear down on you and start pushing you around. Bullets are incredibly rare, so you might only have one or two at a time. The idea is to single out and eliminate the dangerous guys with the guns and subsequently fend off the others with machete attacks, or try bluffing with your empty pistol.
As we progress through the opening two hours of I Am Alive, we get to enjoy more climbing, making our way to the highest point in a ruined mall to find a lookout point that reveals the route to a valuable crate of supplies suspended from a crane in the distance. Using a jerry can to fuel a lift down to ground level, it's an arduous journey through stamina-sapping, acrid dust to a towering skyscraper and an epic climb to the top. Again, managing your stamina is utterly vital to surviving a climb, especially one as long and punishing as this. You have climbing hooks called pitons to rest upon mid-climb, but these are almost as rare as bullets.
There's also steep slopes to contend with too, as we discover when a pipe we're holding onto breaks, leading to a nasty fall onto an incline. Here you can slide, slowing yourself with the right trigger and rolling left or right with A and the left analogue stick. If you see an overhang at the end of the slope, you'll need to make a beeline for it, or you're facing a long drop to your doom. Having hoarded resources, and persevered, we make it to the summit and to the supply crate where our demo ends with a tantalising trailer.
In the ensuing video, we're shown a handy grapnel device that you'll obtain later in the game for swinging and making leaps of faith over chasms, opening up even more potential for terrifying descents up vertiginous ruined structures. Two hours later then, and we're rather excited for I Am Alive's prospects. It may not be the game that everyone thought it would be, having been through the wringer since being first announced in 2008, but to have it reborn on XBLA as something this potentially unique and engaging is good enough for us. And who knows? If it's successful enough, perhaps Ubi will consider a full retail sequel. On the strength of what we've played thus far, here's hoping...
I Am Alive will be concluding the XBLA House Party on March 7th for 1200 Microsoft Points.